CTP Episode of the Day - 11.10.06 - Pusher

Today's Cherished Episode: Pusher (3x17)
Original Air Date: February 23, 1996
Written By: Vince Gilligan
Directed By: Rob Bowman

Mulder and Scully investigate a man possessing the power to bend people to his will and who engages Mulder in a scary battle of wits.

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"You and your pretty partner seem awfully close. Do you work well together?"

Some "Pusher" Tidbits & Musings:

-- Back in Season 2, screenwriter Vince Gilligan -- whose credits included the feature Wilder Napalm, submitted a concept and teleplay to The X-Files. After some revisions and rewrites, the episode became "Soft Light." At that time, it was one of only a few scripts to come from outside The X-Files staff.

-- A few months later, X-Files creator Chris Carter hired Gilligan as a Creative Consultant, a dream job for Gilligan who was a huge fan of the show and a role he filled through the third season. At the end of the third season, he was promoted to the position of co-producer. While serving as Creative Consultant, Gilligan penned his second script for the show, his first since joining the staff -- a little gem called "Pusher."

-- The episode was named for the title character, or more specifically, what the title character preferred to be called. The character of Robert Patrick Modell was based on a premise similar to the character of the father in the movie Firestarter. In fact, in the movie, the father's power was described as "pushing," just as Modell's was.

-- Vince Gilligan set out to establish a tense cat-and-mouse game between Mulder and Modell. "The only conscious thing I wanted to do from the start was get them together as much as I could," he said, though the big issue in the script ended up being the last act, when Pusher compels Mulder to play Russian roulette.

-- "I couldn't believe we got away with it, because the first note back from the network was, 'You can't have Russian roulette,'" Gilligan recalled. "I said, 'What do you mean? That's the whole end of the script!'" Fox's standards department even sought to reinforce their point by consulting the other networks, which claimed they'd never had a Russian roulette scene in a one-hour drama, despite its use in such movies as The Deer Hunter, which prompted concern as well when it was shown on television.

-- "That was their worry: They said they didn't want to give any impressionable kids any ideas," Gilligan said. "My argument to that was I didn't invent Russian roulette. You can make an argument like that more convincingly for a movie like The Program, where they came up with the idea of kids lying down on the white stripe in the street."

-- The episode was set in several counties in Vince Gilligan's home state of Virginia (he was born in Farmville).

-- The Muzak song playing in the supermarket in the teaser was "Misty," a jazz standard written in 1954 by pianist Erroll Garner. Originally composed as an instrumental, the tune later had lyrics added by Johnny Burke and has been covered numerous times, most notably by Johnny Mathis and also by Ray Stevens as a country song. The song played a key role in the plot of the movie Play Misty for Me, a 1971 thriller directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. The film was Eastwood's directorial debut.

-- Eastwood played Dave Garver, a radio disc jockey who became the target of Evelyn Draper, an obsessed female fan played by Jessica Walter. The title of the film came from Draper's habit of phoning in to Garver's radio show and asking him to play the song "Misty." The film paved the way for later stalker films like Fatal Attraction. It was also notable for the use of location shooting in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, where Eastwood had long made his home and where he would be elected Mayor in 1986 with 72 percent of the vote. The film also featured Roberta Flack's recording of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face."

-- In the opening sequence, Pusher looked at a fictitious tabloid, World Weekly Informer, which featured an artist's rendering that looked suspiciously like the Flukeman -- the humanoid parasite featured in the second season episode, "The Host" -- on its cover. The tabloid reported a sighting of the Flukeman after he washed up on the shores of Martha's Vineyard -- where Mulder grew up.

-- A separate headline in the tabloid said "Depravity Rampant on Hit TV Show." The inset picture actually featured props master Ken Hawryliw with a strip-o-gram artist taken on his birthday. "We did a lot of tabloids on the show," noted Hawryliw, who pictured another crew member on a separate cover as a man who wed a gorilla.

-- Who says the X-Files wasn't ahead of its time? A press release dated April 26, 1999, from Carlstadt, New Jersey, had this to say: "The official color of the millennium is Cerulean Blue PANTONE 15-4020 TC, the color of the sky on a serene, crystal clear day, says Pantone, Inc., the world's leading authority on color and color trends. Lifestyle movements suggest that consumers will be seeking inner peace and spiritual fulfillment in the new millennium. This is a paradoxical time in which we are heading toward an uncertain, yet exciting, future, and also looking back, trying to hold onto the security of the past. In this stressful, high-tech era, we will be searching for solace and Cerulean Blue produces the perfect calming effect."

-- Frank Burst called Modell "Mr. Blackwell." Mr. Blackwell was a well-known fashion critic who each year published a 10 Best and Worst Dressed list featuring celebrities.

-- A few years after "Pusher," Vince Gilligan would note that when he was directing Season 7's "Je Souhaite," he stole a shot from "Pusher" from director Rob Bowman. "If you remember the truck crash scene in 'Pusher,' the scene in 'Je Souhaite' where the truck runs over the invisible guy was set up and done the exact same way."

-- Naturally Slide Show Master Fox Mulder would know when a slide was backwards!

Yojimbo (The Bodyguard) was made in 1961 by famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. It told the story of a ronin who came across a town that was terrorized by two warring gangs. It was the inspiration for Sergio Leone's spaghetti western, A Fistful of Dollars in 1966.

-- Danielle Faith Friedman, a production assistant on the show, appeared in a blink-and-you'd miss it turn as the cover model on one of the American Ronin magazines Mulder waded through seeking clues regarding the killer. "You have to fill the frame with something," said art director Graeme Murray. "You might as well have fun with it."

-- Oopsie! In spite of the familiarity with the locale, the visual effects department had to make a last-minute fix when it was realized that a sign in the courtroom which should have read "LOUDOUN COUNTY" was actually spelled "LOUDON COUNTY." "We moved the letters around and stuck a 'U' in there," using the computer, Mat Beck said.

-- In the scene where Modell is infiltrating the FBI headquarters, two of the "extras" passing in the background are Foo Fighters' frontman (and Nirvana drummer) Dave Grohl and his wife, Jennifer Youngblood-Grohl. The Foo Fighters "Down in the Park" appeared on The X-Files-themed CD Songs in the Key of X. Their song "Walking After You" appeared on the Fight the Future soundtrack album and was heard over the closing credits of the film.

-- The secretary who helped Modell get the information he needed about Mulder was named for writer Vince Gilligan's significant other, Holly Rice. Thus began Gilligan's propensity for including what would eventually be far more subtle references to his girlfriend in every episode he wrote. It also became a particularly engaging game for fans to "find the Holly reference."

-- When Skinner walked in on Modell and Holly, Modell said "Take a walk, Mel Cooley." This was a nod to one of Gilligan's favorite TV shows, The Dick Van Dyke Show, an episode of which he would use as the inspiration for Season 5's "Bad Blood." On The Dick Van Dyke Show, Mel Cooley, played by Richard Deacon, was the producer of the fictional show-within-a-show and the brother-in-law of that show's star, Alan Brady. Like Skinner, Cooley was bald.

-- Mitch Pileggi wasn't particularly thrilled, he admitted, about Skinner having "this little woman" brutalize him, especially after the character had been roughed up so much in previous episodes. "I was feeling a little uncomfortable with him getting his ass kicked so much, and I think the fans were too," he noted.

-- Makeup artist Fern Levin said the show was one of her most difficult assignments because "everyone was bruised and banged up," with Skinner taking a beating as well as the detectives in the car crash in the teaser.

-- Modell lived in Alexandria as did his nemesis Fox Mulder. Mulder's address wasn't fully revealed until Season 4's "Small Potatoes," another episode written by Vince Gilligan.

-- The film playing on Modell's TV when the agents entered his apartment was the 1931 version of Svengali starring John Barrymore and adapted from George du Maurier's 1894 novel, Trilby. In the book and film, Svengali was the name of a fictional hypnotist who used his skills to control others. The word "Svengali" entered the language meaning a person who, with evil intent, tries to persuade another to do what is desired. It is frequently used for any kind of coach who seems to exercise an extreme degree of domination over a performer (especially if the person is female or believes he or she can only perform in the presence of the coach).

-- Oopsie! In Modell's apartment Mulder put on a latex glove then opened the refrigerator and picked up a can. In the close-up shot of his hand he didn't have a glove on.

-- Vic Polizos who played Agent Frank Burst -- the guy with the great name and "stubby little legs that are gonna kick you right in the ass" -- has most recently appeared in several episodes of the new CBS series Jericho. Polizos is married to Christine Estabrook who played Agent Henderson in "Young at Heart" (and more recently Mrs. Huber on Desperate Housewives).

-- Another Geographic Oopsie! The electronic map indicated that Fairfax Mercy Hospital was on/near Chain Bridge Road in Fairfax County, Virginia. The hospital is actually on Gallows Road.

-- In the script Mulder originally asked if the tiny camera he strapped on picked up the Discovery Channel, but Duchovny -- tapping into Mulder's penchant for joking about erotica -- went with the Playboy Channel instead.

-- "Pusher" was destined to become a favorite for the shippers who lived for the day when Mulder and Scully would finally get together. It was full of wonderfully "shippy" touches, large and small: Scully sleeping (and drooling) on Mulder's shoulder, the strangely erotic "Let's go, G-Woman," the duo with their heads constantly together, sharing phone receivers or information, Scully's pained expression as Mulder decided to go it alone, and the emotional gun hand-off and hand grasp (in front of a complete stranger, no less). And that's all before the final highly charged 10 minute ShipFest.

-- Although the Russian roulette scene came across as a showdown between Modell and Mulder, it was actually a showdown between Modell and Scully. Mulder had already succumbed to Modell; it was Scully who battled Modell for control of that "beautiful mind," Modell through his pushing ability and Scully through the connection that she and Mulder shared.

-- And there was no greater example of the bond between these two characters when Mulder could not resist putting the gun to his head and pulling the trigger, but he was able to fight Modell when faced with shooting Scully.

-- One reason that Fox Standards and Practices probably relented on the Russian roulette scene was that the superb acting by all three individuals involved brought the characterizations to the forefront. All performances in this episode were standouts, but this scene was exceptional. Robert Wisden was excellent as the creepy monster underneath the normal exterior. Gillian Anderson, with her signature one-tear roll, was powerful as she realized she was losing the battle for her partner's soul. And David Duchovny, amazingly subtle as always, said so much with his body language -- the trembling lip, the beads of sweat, the movement of his Adam's apple as he swallowed hard, and finally the look of desperation as he realized he couldn't hold out against Modell, as he said Scully's name under his breath, and pleaded to her with his eyes to run away and to forgive him for what he was about to do. Then his shame afterward as he handed the gun to his partner without looking at her and hid his face in his hands. The performances of all during this scene were deeply affecting.

-- One more act of shippiness with the tender hand-hold/finger squeeze at Modell's bedside at the end of the episode. Vince Gilligan once noted in an interview that during the show's early years, the producers declared any indication of Mulder and Scully's escalating affection strictly taboo, and he recalled getting some flak over the mere hint of intimacy in "Pusher": "I scripted that Scully touched Mulder's hand at the end," he said. "And Chris and Frank went, 'Oh, this is too much, too soap opera-y.' But the fans went nuts."

-- It has long been my biased opinion that while some of the usual X-Files writers wrote Mulder best, or Scully best, Gilligan wrote the Mulder/Scully team (and the ship) better than anyone else. "Pusher" was only his second script for the show, but it certainly foreshadowed more great things that fans would see from Vince Gilligan.

-- Once & Future Retreads (and there are a lot of them!): Robert Wisden (Robert Patrick Modell) reprised the role of Pusher in Season 5's "Kitsunegari." Roger R. Cross (SWAT Lieutenant) was Officer Green in "E.B.E.," Private Kittel in "Fresh Bones," and a Field Agent in "Folie a Deux" (most recently, he's Curtis Manning in 24). Steve Bacic (Agent Collins) was Officer #2 in "Soft Light" and the SWAT Commander in "Folie a Deux." Don MacKay (The Judge) was Warden Joseph Cash in "Beyond the Sea," Charlie in "The Host," and Oates in "The List." Brent Sheppard (Prosecutor) was a Doctor in "Redux II." D. Neill Mark (Deputy Scott Kerber) was a SWAT Team Officer in "The Jersey Devil." Meredith Bain Woodward (Defense Attorney Brent) was Dr. Ruth Slaughter in "Ascension." Julia Arkos (Holly) also played Holly in "Redux." Ernie Foort (Lobby Guard) played the same role in "The Blessing Way." Henry O. Watson (Bailiff) was the Blue Collar Guy in "Mind's Eye."

-- When asked about his favorite X-Files episodes, Gilligan said he had never been able to pare anything down to one favorite, not "food or soft drink or anything," and he counted many of the episodes among his favorites as a "fan." But on the "short-list" of the episodes he wrote for the show, Gilligan said, "Well, 'Bad Blood, 'Pusher,' 'Paper Hearts,' 'Hungry,' 'Je Souhaite,' just because it was so much fun, along with 'X-Cops.' I was also really proud of 'Folie a Deux,' which wasn't enjoyed by the fans as much as I had hoped, but it was still one of my favorites."

-- Vince Gilligan was once asked about his strengths as a writer on The X-Files. "I can tell you where my strengths don't lie," he responded. "I definitely don't have a facility for the mythology episodes. There was only one that I was actually involved in as a writer, and that was the quasi-mythology 'Memento Mori.' I'll be honest," he added. "I love watching the mythology episodes, but I watch them as a fan. They are a different kind of storytelling, but one I don't feel particularly equipped for. If I had a strength on the show, it would be for the stand-alone episodes -- the actual sitting down and writing of an episode. As producers, we had to wear a lot of different hats during the course of production on an episode. We had to come up with a story and beat it out brick by brick and edit it and listen to the music, give input into the visual effects, and all of those things were part and parcel of our job. I feel like I've learned a lot about those aspects, but I guess my strength lies in actually taking a finished 'board' -- which is the hashed-out beat by beat plot of the story -- and turning it into a finished script. If I have a strength, that's where it lies." I think that's an understatement.

-- And did I mention Mulder in kevlar?

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(Thanks to chrisnu for today's pics.)

Please share your first impressions, favorite (or cringe-worthy) moments, classic lines, favorite fanfic, nagging questions, repeated viewing observations, etc., as today we celebrate "Pusher."

Polly